A guide to working with Gen Z

Openness is key to working with Gen Z

Members of Generation Z operate openly by default. Are you ready to work with them?

Openness is key to working with Gen Z
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Leaders and managers everywhere collectively groan with the thought of a new cohort to manage. Boomers and Gen Xers typically try to align the new kids on the block with Millennials—which would be a mistake. While Gen Z and Millennials have similarities, their motivators and influencers are vastly different. Each of the differences affects attraction, recruitment, and retention of Gen Z talent.

Could open organizational models be the keys to seeing this generation excel in the workplace?

Let’s take a look.

Shaping a generation

Cohort birth dates are always controversial. However, the consensus seems to hold that “Gen Z” consists of people born between 1996 and 2012. This places the oldest members of the group at 21 years old, which means you are likely already working alongside one. By 2020, Gen Z is expected to grow to 2.56B globally.

"Two major factors influence Generation Z: They’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world and through the Great Recession."

And yet, each generation is defined by more than a span of years. Key external influencers shape and motivate a group, and these are where anyone must start before leading one.

Two major factors influence Generation Z: They’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world and through the Great Recession.

While even the oldest in the generation do not recall the day of 9/11, they fully understand its impact. They see a day when terror dropped to their doorsteps and their innocence was lost. For their entire life spans, our country has been at war. They experience heightened security when traveling or even attending a local sporting event. Terrorism is a real and constant threat—both domestically and globally.

The second force shaping their identity is growing up through the Great Recession. If they didn’t experience the economic downturn firsthand, they were likely directly connected to it through a close friend or relative. Job loss and foreclosures were rampant. It was possible to have experienced a loss of their home or even a parent during these tumultuous times. This generation has felt the high cost of stress to the family unit.

The struggle is real

Gen Z are neck and neck with Millennials for having stress levels higher than any other generation at this time. Let that sink in: They’re dealing with unhealthy levels of stress—daily. Because they came of age during economic decline, job insecurity, and increasing inequality, they often have trouble seeing how they can succeed as adults.

That stress manifests in several ways for members of Generations Z:

  • 79% worry about getting a job
  • 72% worry about debt
  • 70% say inequality worries them greatly
  • 70% say terrorism concerns them

All this is important for business leaders to understand, as the business impact of stress costs our organizations a great deal (both financially and in terms of productivity). Because members of Generation Z harbor increased anxiety, pessimism, a distrust for government, awareness of social unfairness, and the like, they are deeply driven by a desire for transparency, authenticity, and genuine connections with community. We have an opportunity to create work environments that curate amazing talent—especially in open organizations.

Thriving in the open

As an evangelist for open principles, I firmly believe that openness would allow for Gen Z to thrive in the workplace. This is a generation poised to be disruptors like we have never seen. Closely aligned with the Silent Generation, they will be makers, creators, inventors and social problem solvers.

"This is a generation poised to be disruptors like we have never seen."

Because of Generation Z’s need to control environments and financial opportunities, we’ll see more of this generation becoming entrepreneurs and freelance contributors. Creating a workplace culture of transparency, contribution, collaboration, meritocracy, diversity and inclusivity will attract and engage this generation. Individuals from all generations are seeking these principles—but openness seems to be inherent to Gen Z.

To accommodate that orientation toward openness, leaders should be aware of several points:

  • Diversity and inclusivity: Gen Z is multicultural and the last generation to be majority caucasian (52.9%).
  • Collaboration and community: This generation has been globally connected since toddlerhood and engages in global, remote conversations throughout the day.
  • Transparency: Access to media and a heavy leaning towards realism has them grounded and cautious to trust others, which is why this principle is crucial.
  • Adaptability: Real-time access to data has developed the expectation to have access anywhere at anytime in order to understand and make decisions on the fly.
  • Meritocracy: Gen Z wants to contribute to something that makes a difference. Members also want to earn their place, with contribution making meritocracy an attractive environment.

Where to start

The quick run-down for attracting, recruiting and engaging Gen Z in the workplace:

  • Rewards should be monetary. Bonuses are expected to be in real-time—so think cash, not 401K matching.
  • Offer tours of duty. They want to solve problems collaboratively in a project-based environment more than they want set and repetitive job.
  • Real-time, face-to-face feedback. They want face time even if delivered virtually.
  • As true digital natives, STEM capabilities are important to them.
  • Connect to purpose and mission. It won't be enough that your company has a social good impact; they want to know their personal contribution delivers that as well.
  • Expectations of their leaders. In order of importance, leaders should clearly communicate, be supportive, and be honest.
  • Diversity and inclusion matter. They are the most diverse generation with an expectation and belief in diversity.
  • Mobility is critical. They plan to work outside of the U.S. and travel frequently. Creating structures necessary for this to happen will become a key to retention.

As you begin to build relationships with members of Gen Z, above all, enter into those relationships assuming positive intent. Take time to understand their motivations and get to know them. Offer them respect, as they will be quick to return it. Include them in idea sessions; they will surprise you. Be appreciative of their work ethics—even though it might not be the old-school “8-5” you’ve always known. Don’t dismiss them as “children”; they are incredibly bright, insightful, and globally connected game-changers.

The best management advice on Gen Z, you ask?

Empower them and partner alongside them as they create new solutions for a globally connected world.

About the author

Jen Kelchner - Jen is a founding member of the Forbes Coaches Council and is a leadership and management consultant who solves problems and develops people. Her company, LDR21, focuses on change management, Open principles, and cultural and operational change due to digital transformation. She is currently developing assessment and business tools based on a new change management theory and the scale of openness.